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Here’s why Ukraine is suing Russia in the International Court of Justice

Ukraine’s case in the ICJ looks like a device to avoid paying the likely High Court Judgment for payment of the $3 billion debt Ukraine owes Russia.

Alexander Mercouris

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The case Ukraine is bringing in the International Court of Justice is attracting scant international attention and has been almost entirely ignored by Western governments and by the Western media.  Having said this it is an interesting case which begs a number of obvious questions.

Ukraine’s claim is set out in an indictment which apparently runs to 45 pages.  The summary of its claim, which is dated 17th January 2017, can be found here.

Essentially Ukraine is demanding compensation from Russia for the damage it says Russia has done to Ukraine through its aggression in eastern Ukraine and because of the harm Ukraine alleges Russia is doing to the Ukrainian and Tatar minorities in Crimea.

Two questions about this case immediately stand out: (1) its timing; and (2) why does it fail to ask that the International Court of Justice declare that Crimea’s unification with Russia is contrary to international law?

(1) Timing of the Case

The case was brought on 16th January 2017, three years after the Maidan coup, three years after Ukraine and Russia found themselves in conflict with each other, and almost three years after Crimea seceded from Ukraine and united with Russia and eastern Ukraine rose up against the new Maidan government in Kiev.

Why has this case been brought only now?

There is in fact an obvious answer to this question.  In January 2017, when this case was brought, the High Court in London finished hearing Russia’s application for summary Judgment in the case Russia has brought against Ukraine for payment of the $3 billion eurobond debt Ukraine owes Russia.  A decision is expected in April.

Ukraine’s defence in this case is that it does not owe Russia any money because of the amount of the $3 billion debt has been extinguished by the far greater amount Ukraine says Russia owes Ukraine arising from the damage Russia did to Ukraine as a result of its aggression in eastern Ukraine.

I have always said that I believe that the High Court is likely to rule that it has no jurisdiction to hear this defence to the Russian claim.  Way back on 21st April 2015, long before the case was brought, I explained why I thought this defence was unlikely to succeed

The debt is not repayable because Russia has made its repayment impossible by committing military aggression against Ukraine

Russia categorically denies it is committing aggression against Ukraine.

The Russians would undoubtedly argue that the question of whether or not Russia is committing aggression against Ukraine has been answered in their favour by Ukraine’s signature to the Minsk Memorandum. This treats the Ukrainian conflict as a civil war and commits Ukraine to a process for its settlement.

The High Court would anyway almost certainly refuse to look at this question. It would probably again say this a matter for the International Court of Justice. It is anyway doubtful even if Ukraine could persuade the High Court that Russia had committed aggression against Ukraine that this cancels Ukraine’s whole debt.

(bold italics added)

It seems to me that what has happened is that Ukraine’s lawyers have now given Ukraine the same advice.

They must have told Ukraine that Ukraine is likely to lose the case in the High Court because the High Court will almost certainly say it has no jurisdiction to hear Ukraine’s defence since the question of whether Ukraine is entitled to compensation from Russia because of Russia’s alleged aggression against Ukraine is not an issue the High Court in London is able to decide.  The High Court will almost certainly say this is a matter for the International Court of Justice.

Ukraine has therefore brought its claim in the International Court of Justice in order to pre-empt what looks like a Judgment against it in the High Court.

Possibly Ukraine is hoping to persuade the High Court to stay enforcement of its Judgment until after the International Court of Justice has made its decision.  If so then it is unlikely to succeed.  The High Court is most unlikely to order a stay of one of its Judgment for payment of a debt until another court makes a ruling on an entirely different matter.

More likely Ukraine is hoping to persuade the IMF – with which it is currently negotiating for further funding, and whose Board is due to review its lending to Ukraine on 20th March 2017 – to disregard any Judgment the High Court makes which declares Ukraine in default of its debt to Russia on the grounds that the question of whether Ukraine owes money to Russia will not be finally decided until the International Court of Justice makes its decision.

Russia is a member of the exclusive Paris Club of creditors.  The IMF is supposed to stop all lending to Ukraine if the High Court declares Ukraine is in default of its debt to a member of the Paris Club.  Presumably Ukraine is hoping that the IMF, which has already relaxed this rule, will set it aside completely in Ukraine’s favour on the basis that the question of whether Ukraine owes money to Russia will not be finally decided until the International Court of Justice makes its decision.

If this is the argument Ukraine intends to make to the IMF (which I suspect it is) then legally speaking it is desperate.

Even if Ukraine wins its case against Russia in the International Court of Justice, any compensation it is awarded cannot be enforced against Russia through the ordinary courts.  It would be entirely up to Russia to decide whether or not to pay it.  Russia would almost certainly refuse to pay it.

By contrast since the claim Russia is bringing against Ukraine in the High Court is for payment of a eurobond (which is a promissory note) any Judgment Russia obtains against Ukraine can be enforced immediately.

There are therefore no logical or legal grounds for the IMF to say that Ukraine is not in default to Russia if the High Court says it is, simply because Ukraine is bringing a case against Russia in the International Court of Justice.

At this point however a word of caution is in order.  Since the IMF has been lending to Ukraine for essentially political reasons all along, a cynic might say it will accept whatever argument Ukraine makes however legally dubious or threadbare it might be so that it can continue lending to Ukraine irrespective of what it’s own rules say.

All I would say about that is that that may indeed happen but if it does then legally speaking we are in unknown territory, with the Russians quite possibly in that case seeking to enforce their Judgment by taking legal action in the US and European commercial courts to seize Ukraine’s IMF bailout funds.  That would be an extraordinary and unprecedented situation, and I do not know what the eventual outcome or the long term repercussions would be, and I doubt anyone else does either.  However I suspect the long term repercussions would be huge, and I also suspect that there are people within the IMF’s bureaucracy who think the same and who will if only for that reason be counselling against it.

The High Court is expected to decide whether or not to grant Russia’s application for summary Judgment in April.  The stakes could not be higher.  That makes it understandable why Ukraine has brought its case in the International Court of Justice now, however desperate legally speaking that course might be.

(2) Crimea

Putting aside these highly technical (though potentially very important) issues,  the single most striking omission in the case is that though Ukraine repeatedly refers in its claim to Crimea’s unification with Russia as an ‘illegal occupation’, and claims compensation for the alleged ‘discrimination’ and ‘oppression’ by Russia of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar minorities in Crimea, it does not actually seek a declaration from the International Court that the unification of Crimea with Russia is contrary to international law.

The reason Ukraine has failed to do this is because its lawyers have undoubtedly advised it that if it were to seek such a declaration the International Court of Justice would refuse to grant it.

This is because the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion on Kosovo has previously ruled that a declaration of independence made by the people of a territory declaring themselves independent of a country to which that territory belongs are not acting contrary to international law even if their action is made unilaterally, is backed by the use of force (including outside force), and is contrary to the constitutional arrangements and laws of the country from which they are declaring themselves independent.

The Western powers lobbied the International Court of Justice hard to obtain the Advisory Opinion on Kosovo.  When they obtained it they hailed it as a famous victory.  Since then they have come to regret it bitterly, and since Crimea cited it in its unilateral declaration of independence from Ukraine they have completely stopped talking about it.

The Russians by contrast talk about the Advisory Opinion on Kosovo whenever the subject of the alleged ‘illegality’ of Crimea’s unification with Russia is brought up.  President Putin was the first to do so in the speech he made immediately following Crimea’s unification with Russia on 18th March 2014

As it declared independence and decided to hold a referendum, the Supreme Council of Crimea referred to the United Nations Charter, which speaks of the right of nations to self-determination. Incidentally, I would like to remind you that when Ukraine seceded from the USSR it did exactly the same thing, almost word for word. Ukraine used this right, yet the residents of Crimea are denied it. Why is that?

Moreover, the Crimean authorities referred to the well-known Kosovo precedent – a precedent our western colleagues created with their own hands in a very similar situation, when they agreed that the unilateral separation of Kosovo from Serbia, exactly what Crimea is doing now, was legitimate and did not require any permission from the country’s central authorities. Pursuant to Article 2, Chapter 1 of the United Nations Charter, the UN International Court agreed with this approach and made the following comment in its ruling of July 22, 2010, and I quote: “No general prohibition may be inferred from the practice of the Security Council with regard to declarations of independence,” and “General international law contains no prohibition on declarations of independence.” Crystal clear, as they say.

I do not like to resort to quotes, but in this case, I cannot help it. Here is a quote from another official document: the Written Statement of the United States of America of April 17, 2009, submitted to the same UN International Court in connection with the hearings on Kosovo. Again, I quote: “Declarations of independence may, and often do, violate domestic legislation. However, this does not make them violations of international law.” End of quote. They wrote this, disseminated it all over the world, had everyone agreed and now they are outraged. Over what? The actions of Crimean people completely fit in with these instructions, as it were. For some reason, things that Kosovo Albanians (and we have full respect for them) were permitted to do, Russians, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars in Crimea are not allowed. Again, one wonders why.

(bold italics added)

By failing to ask the International Court of Justice to declare Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and subsequent union with Russia to be contrary to international law Ukraine appears to be conceding the point.  Though Ukraine and its Western allies will doubtless go on calling Crimea’s secession from Ukraine ‘illegal’, in terms of international law there are actually no grounds to do so.  Ukraine’s conduct of its case in the International Court of Justice effectively admits as much.

As to the eventual outcome of the case, I am not an expert in this field.  I understand the Russians are denying that the International Court of Justice has the jurisdiction to hear the case.   I suspect they are right and that the International Court of Justice will agree with them.

Even if it doesn’t and even if the case goes to a full hearing – which may take years – I doubt Ukraine will be able to prove many of the claims it is making, or that it will achieve much or indeed anything in the end by bringing the case.  The stony silence of Western governments and of the Western media about the case all but says as much.

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High-ranking Ukrainian official reports on US interference in Ukraine

It is not usually the case that an American media outlet tells the truth about Ukraine, but it appears to have happened here.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Hill committed what may well have been a random act of journalism when it reported that Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Hill.tv’s reporter John Solomon that the American ambassador to that country, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him a “do not prosecute” list at their first meeting.

Normally, all things Russia are covered by the American press as “bad”, and all things Ukraine are covered by the same as “good.” Yet this report reveals quite a bit about the nature of the deeply embedded US interests that are involved in Ukraine, and which also attempt to control and manipulate policy in the former Soviet republic.

The Hill’s piece continues (with our added emphases):

“Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko, who took his post in 2016, told Hill.TV last week.

“My response of that is it is inadmissible. Nobody in this country, neither our president nor our parliament nor our ambassador, will stop me from prosecuting whether there is a crime,” he continued.

Indeed, the Prosecutor General appears to be a man of some principles. When this report was brought to the attention of the US State Department, the response was predictable:

The State Department called Lutsenko’s claim of receiving a do not prosecute list, “an outright fabrication.” 

“We have seen reports of the allegations,” a department spokesperson told Hill.TV. “The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform, including in the PGO, in the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”

This is an amazing statement in itself. “Our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer”? Are Americans even aware that their country is spending their tax dollars in an effort to manipulate a foreign government in what can probably well be called a low-grade proxy war with the Russian Federation? Again, this appears to be a slip, as most American media do a fair job of maintaining the narrative that Ukraine is completely independent and that its actions regarding the United States and Russia are taken in complete freedom.

Hill.TV has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for comment.

Lutsenko also said that he has not received funds amounting to nearly $4 million that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine was supposed to allocate to his office, saying that “the situation was actually rather strange” and pointing to the fact that the funds were designated, but “never received.”

“At that time we had a case for the embezzlement of the U.S. government technical assistance worth 4 million U.S. dollars, and in that regard, we had this dialogue,” he said. “At that time, [Yovanovitch] thought that our interviews of Ukrainian citizens, of Ukrainian civil servants, who were frequent visitors of the U.S. Embassy put a shadow on that anti-corruption policy.”

“Actually, we got the letter from the U.S. Embassy, from the ambassador, that the money that we are speaking about [was] under full control of the U.S. Embassy, and that the U.S. Embassy did not require our legal assessment of these facts,” he said. “The situation was actually rather strange because the funds we are talking about were designated for the prosecutor general’s office also and we told [them] we have never seen those, and the U.S. Embassy replied there was no problem.”

“The portion of the funds, namely 4.4 million U.S. dollars were designated and were foreseen for the recipient Prosecutor General’s office. But we have never received it,” he said.

Yovanovitch previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia under former presidents Obama and George W. Bush, as well as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan under Bush. She also served as ambassador to Ukraine under Obama.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who was at the time House Rules Committee chairman, voiced concerns about Yovanovitch in a letter to the State Department last year in which he said he had proof the ambassador had spoken of her “disdain” for the Trump administration.

This last sentence may be a way to try to narrow the scope of American interference in Ukraine down to the shenanigans of just a single person with a personal agenda. However, many who have followed the story of Ukraine and its surge in anti-Russian rhetoric, neo-Naziism, ultra-nationalism, and the most recent events surrounding the creation of a pseudo-Orthodox “church” full of Ukrainian nationalists and atheists as a vehicle to import “Western values” into a still extremely traditional and Christian land, know that there are fingerprints of the United States “deep state” embeds all over this situation.

It is somewhat surprising that so much that reveals the problem showed up in just one report. It will be interesting to see if this gets any follow-up in the US press.

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Bercow blocks Brexit vote, May turns to EU for lifeline (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s latest Brexit dilemma, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, shocked the world by citing a 1604 precedent that now effectively blocks May’s third go around at trying to pass her treacherous Brexit deal through the parliament.

All power now rests with the Brussels, as to how, if and when the UK will be allowed to leave the European Union.

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Via Bloomberg


Theresa May claims Brexit is about taking back control. Ten days before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, it looks like anything but.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s intervention, citing precedent dating back to 1604, to rule out a repeat vote on May’s already defeated departure deal leaves the prime minister exposed ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Bercow, whose cries of “Orrdurrr! Orrdurrr!’’ to calm rowdy lawmakers have gained him a devoted international following, is now the pivotal figure in the Brexit battle. May’s team privately accuse him of trying to frustrate the U.K.’s exit from the EU, while the speaker’s admirers say he’s standing up for the rights of parliament against the executive.

If just one of the 27 other states declines May’s summit appeal to extend the divorce timetable, then the no-deal cliff edge looms for Britain’s departure on March 29. If they consent, it’s unclear how May can meet Bercow’s test that only a substantially different Brexit agreement merits another vote in parliament, since the EU insists it won’t reopen negotiations.

Caught between Bercow and Brussels, May’s room for maneuver is shrinking. Amid rumblings that their patience with the U.K. is near exhaustion, EU leaders are girding for the worst.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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